“Households and Peripheral Financialisation in Europe” – a workshop report

The workshop on “Households and Peripheral Financialisation in Europe”, organised by Marek Mikuš of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology and Petra Rodik of the University of Zagreb, was held at the Max Planck Institute on 22–23 February 2018.

April 03, 2018

The workshop was conceived as an informal and intensive meeting of an interdisciplinary group of researchers – anthropologists, sociologists, and geographers – who share an interest in still rather understudied relationships between households and financialisation, understood as a transformation of the economy and society under the increasing dominance of finance. It brought together scholars based in Austria, Croatia, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom and studying mostly societies in Eastern and Southern Europe. Chris Hann and Don Kalb, co-directors of the “Financialisation” Research Group at the Max Planck Institute, as well as Martin Sokol and his collaborators on the GEOFIN project (Trinity College Dublin), attended the workshop and contributed to the discussion.

In his part of the introductory talk, Marek Mikuš traced the intellectual genealogy of the household as an anthropological concept in order to problematise assumptions accompanying its received meaning and underscore the need for a dynamic and relational approach to households as social forms embedded in larger structures and processes. Petra Rodik reviewed the literature on dependent, peripheral, and semiperipheral forms of financialisation and summarised what we know about their implications for households in Europe’s peripheries as well as the existing gaps in scholarship. Building on her own long-term fieldwork in South Africa as well as on others’ work in Chile, India, and Malawi, Deborah James (London School of Economics) gave a keynote talk on the complex and often contradictory links between growing indebtedness and “new middle classes” in the Global South. The remainder of the first day of the workshop was devoted to three ethnographically driven papers on the financialisation of household economies in South-East and Southern Europe. Zaira Lofranco (University of Bergamo) discussed the issue of loan guarantors in Bosnia and Herzegovina and how the fact that many were forced to repay others’ debts affected both lending practices and familial and solidary relationships. Irene Sabaté Muriel (University of Barcelona) underscored the need to look beyond the limits of the household as a contained unit and towards wider familial and social networks  to understand the strategies of Spanish mortgage debtors at risk of home repossession. Andreas Streinzer (University of Vienna) untangled the collaborative work of debt management undertaken by Greek bank clerks and indebted households at risk of defaulting.

The first part of the second day was focused on the financialisation of housing. In his keynote talk, Manuel Aalbers (KU Leuven) highlighted the centrality of housing for financialised capitalism and traced key tendencies, turning points, and patterns within the global historical geography of housing financialisation as well as its more recent tendencies, such as an increased targeting of rental housing. Analysing trajectories of individuals and households in a debt-driven residential development project around a high-speed rail station in the wider Madrid region, Natalia Buier (MPI for Social Anthropology) engaged with links between financialised housing and infrastructure, social reproduction, and politics. The final session included three empirical papers on the financialisation of households in East-Central Europe. Ágnes Gagyi (University of Gothenburg) and András Vigvári (Hungarian Academy of Sciences) presented a collaborative project they have been developing together with Csaba Jelinik (Hungarian Academy of Sciences) and Zsuzsanna Pósfai (University of Szeged). The project situates informal housing solutions on the outskirts of the Budapest metropolitan region in the long-term trajectory and multi-level geography of uneven development in Hungary, with financialisation of housing and households marking the most recent stages of that trajectory. Mateusz Halawa (Polish Academy of Sciences) presented his work-in-progress on the moral debates surrounding Swiss franc mortgages in Poland, the only remaining European country with a significant number of such mortgages that has not provided a collective solution for debtors exposed to the appreciation of the franc since the crisis. Building on an analysis of statistical data, Mikołaj Lewicki (University of Warsaw) then posed the question of whether and how different kinds of mortgages (Swiss franc, euro, Polish zloty) and other household loans might be contributing to the processes of social stratification in Poland.

Papers presented at the workshop elaborated different possibilities of analysing household financialisation from dynamic and relational perspectives that take into account its embeddedness in local, regional, national, and transnational relations and processes. Various cases discussed at the workshop displayed several points of convergence, regarding for example practices of more or less direct asset and labour extraction via finance (most prominently through mortgage lending), and the commodification of households’ social capital (especially kinship ties). All participants benefited from extensive comments of discussants as well as a general discussion of their paper, for which ample time was reserved in the programme. Before closing the workshop, they decided to work towards a collaborative publication.

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